ESL Past Tense Games & Activities

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  • 0:24 ESL Past Tense Activities
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amanda Wiesner-Groff

Amanda has created and taught English/ESL curricula worldwide, has an M.Ed, and is the current ESOL Coordinator for the Saint Louis Public School District.

For students learning English as a second language (ESL), grammar can be a challenge! Find out some ESL past tense games and activities that make learning grammar fun.

ESL Students

Grammar is typically not a favorite subject for ESL students (English as a second language students). The rules can be confusing to these students, and the work can quickly become overwhelming. Try incorporating some of the following ESL past tense games and activities to help liven, and lighten, your grammar lessons.

ESL Past Tense Activities

One More Time

First, we'll take a look at One More Time. This is a whole group or small group activity in which students create a story in the past tense, using lesson-relevant vocabulary and/or pictures.

  1. Divide students into groups of 4 or 5, or begin the activity in a whole group setting.
  2. Hand out a list of vocabulary words and/or a sheet of paper with content-relevant pictures.
  3. Explain to students they are to create a story in the past tense, beginning with 'One time, _____.' You can have students in the group play round-robin style by each contributing a sentence, or you can have each student create a story of his/her own.
  4. To ensure students understand the activity, tell an example story, while emphasizing the past tense version of all verbs being used.

Past Tense Bingo: Irregular Verbs

Now let's take a look at Past Tense Bingo: Irregular Verbs. You can use this game once students are familiar with the past tense form of many irregular verbs. You create a variety of bingo cards using 25 irregular verbs on each. In order to keep the bingo cards different from one another, aim to use at least 50 different irregular verbs total.

  1. Give each student a bingo card along with paper clips or chips to use as the word markers.
  2. Call out the present tense of an irregular verb from your word list. If students have the past tense of that irregular verb, they will mark it off.
  3. Give the students a few moments to convert the verbs to past tense before moving onto the next word.
  4. The first student to get 5 words in a row wins.

Three Strikes, You're Out

Now let's look at Three Strikes, You're Out. This is a fun story-telling game best suited for whole class participation. The class, as a whole, will create a story, with each team contributing one sentence at a time using the words: 'first,' 'second,' 'then,' 'next,' 'after that,' and 'finally.' Each team will get to contribute two sentences to the story, with the first team starting with the word 'first', the second team moving to the word 'next', and so on.

  1. Divide the class into three teams.
  2. Draw three columns on the board, with three baseballs in each column.
  3. Write out a large list of verbs for students to call upon as they contribute sentences to the story.
  4. A team will get a strike if they make a grammatical error, repeat a verb, or make an incoherent sentence. Every time a team gets a strike, a baseball gets erased for their team's column.
  5. The last team left with baseballs in their column wins.


Now let's take a closer look at Tic-Tac-Toe. This is a whole group activity, and this is how it's done:

  1. Divide the class into two teams.
  2. Designate one team as X and the other team as O.
  3. Draw a Tic-Tac-Toe grid on the board, then write a verb in each square.
  4. The teams will take turns choosing a verb. Once a verb is chosen, one member of the team must identify the past tense form of the verb (beginner), or make a sentence using the past tense form of the verb (intermediate/advanced).
  5. The team can only place an X or O over the chosen verb if their identification, or sentence, is correct. If the identification/sentence is wrong, the verb is still in play and can be chosen by the other team.
  6. The first team to get three X's or O's in a row wins.

rregular Verb Memory Game

Now let's take a closer look at the Irregular Verb Memory Game. This is a solo or partner pair-up activity. Students will practice identifying irregular verbs by finding cards matching their present and past tense forms.

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